History of photography

Spirit Photography

The UK’s National Media Museum has digitized a collection of the Spirit Photographs of William Hope, one of the most well-known spiritualists and practitioners of spirit photography in early 20th century England. The classic spirit photograph captured the likeness of a living person or people, and the eerie spirits who accompanied them. These ‘spirits’ were created by multiple exposure techniques. All of Hopes’s photographs uploaded to Flickr Commons are dated 1920.

The image below is a very typical example of a Hope spirit photograph; a sitter and a spirit are posed in front of a dark background. The curator’s notes say that the reverse of the photograph reads “Why is the child always pushing to the front?’ and ‘Do we get messages from the higher spirits?” – possibly questions that the sitter had for her ghost.


The image below is the only example of a mourning photograph in the online Hope collection; it depicts a woman and her son standing by their deceased husband and father, whose ‘ghost’ is also visible.


This unique spirit photograph a couple pose by their car, which is occupied by the ghost of the dead son.


We invite you to explore Flickr Commons and share the good stuff you discover.

So Anastasia wasn’t the first: on nineteenth-century selfies

History in the Making hasn’t quite finished with selfies. As the people who bring us the Oxford English Dictionary have just named ‘selfie’ the word of the year, we’ve decided to dedicate yet another blog post to this phenomenon.

The OED defines a selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”. The Guardian was reported that the word has Australian roots: it can be traced back to a post on an Australian online forum in 2002: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

So what about selfie’s in history? A recent post on the Oxford University Press (OUP) blog has persuaded us that Anastasia’s 1913 self-portrait was not, in-fact, the world’s first selfie. The OUP blog explains that many early photographic portraits shot by daguerreotypists were self-portraits (Like this mid 19th century photo below of an anonymous daguerreotypist).


Ever wondered what would WW2 look like if the smart phone was invented in 1940? In selfie-related alternative history, the Huntington Post this week published a titillating gallery of famous photographs reimagined as selfies (created for an advertising campaign for a South African newspaper. The doctored photo of Churchill below gives you a taste of what we’re talking about;